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Sandinista Peoples Army (Ejército Popular Sandinista - EPS)

When the FSLN triumphed in the revolution of 1979, it abolished the National Guard, which had protected dictator Anastasio Somoza’s family, and replaced it with a new military structure — the Sandinista Peoples Army (EPS). The EPS was the armed wing of the FSLN, the party that led the Sandinista Popular Revolution. From 1979 until 1990, it was impossible to separate the state, the army, and the party; the EPS was part of the political and ideological apparatus that supported the revolution.

The army took advantage of the two-year hiatus in US government military support from September 1984 to October 1986 to make major improvements in their force capabilities. The army’s counter-insurgent force, some 35,000 to 45,000 strong, improved considerably with the formation of l3-plus irregular warfare battalions, 12-plus light hunter battalions, and 5,000 frontier guard troops. The irregulars operate from home ase areas but could be sent anywhere in the nationai territory. With some 200 to 300 men each, the hunter battalions have probably half as many troops as those of the irregulars and are more lightly armed. They usually were assigned to a specific infantry brigade and thus have a more limited operational area to cover.

The frontier guards, as their name implied, patrol the borders and try to pick up rebel forces as far forward as possible, although they may be used more deeply inside the national territory if the situation warrants. Command and control also improved with increasing use of infantry brigade headquarters to direct the principai battles.

The chain of command ran from army headquarters in Managua to the Military Region commands in the war zone and down to the brigades. The brigades also control reserve and militia battalions and permanent territorial companies which had a static mission in defense of state farms, towns, bridges, and lines of communication.

Army firepower and mobility made progress over the early years. With the approximate doubling of the helicopter force from six HIND attack helicopters and 15 HiP assault transport helicopters to 10-12 HINDs and 35 HIPs and the addition of between 1000 and 2000 trucks in 1986-1987 alone, the Sandinista armed forces gained increased mobility in the counterinsurgency war.

Conscription was abolished in 1990. In that year the civil war with the contras came to an end with the signing of the peace accords. The new government abolished military service immediately after winning the 1990 elections. There is no current legislation providing for conscription. The Patriotic Military Service Law was legally abolished by a law passed by the National Assembly in December 1990 (Ley que deroga la Ley del Servicio Militar Patritico). Re-introduction of conscription is not to be expected. The priority of the authorities was to reduce the armed forces rather than recruit more members - the armed forces have been reduced from 97,000 troops in the 1980s to 17,000 in 1997. In the early 1990s there were some rumors about government plans to re-introduce military service, which caused considerable public debate. In February 1993 these rumors were publicly denied by President Chamorro and the military.

One of the images which was used most often outside the country to discredit the Nicaraguan revolution is that of Nicaragua's "increased military build-up." It has been said that Nicaragua's armament and expansionist tendencies expressed its willingness to serve outside interests by destabilizing its neighbors. It has also been said that these same tendencies showed the revolutionary government's intention to repress the Nicaraguan people in a totalitarian fashion.

The institution of the draft was used to strengthen this image. It was necessary, therefore, to present a historical, structural and analytical context in which the draft the patriotic military service law can be studied and understood.

The inability of international pressure to stop the aggressive policy of the U.S. toward Nicaragua gave Nicaragua's defense institutions a key role within the revolutionary process, as well as within the reconstruction process of the nation.

Before 1979, under the Somoza dictatorship, conscription was provided for in the constitution but not implemented in practice. Traditionally Somoza's National Guard was an elite force whose membership often passed from father to son. In the late 1970s the Somoza government began to use forced recruitment and press ganging young men in order to replace deserters and casualties. Young people in particular got recruited. According to one report 40 percent of the National Guard recruits were recruited when they were under 15. In the late 1970s all young people were suspected of sympathizing with the Sandinista opposition and repression was severe. In some areas the National Guard searched every house for teenage boys, took them outside and shot them, presumably to prevent their joining the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional - Sandinist National Liberation Front).

The revolution's defense institutions and structures were not completely separated from the history of this country nor can they be separated, as if they were imposed superstructures, from the active participation of the Nicaraguan people, as is evident at all levels of national reconstruction. This active and voluntary participation is reflected in the volunteer police, the campesinos armed in self defense cooperatives, the commanders, the aged who do night-watch duty, the soldiers, the militia members, the reservists, etc. In every aspect of the defense of the nation, the groundwork for the new Nicaraguan army is being expressed.

On 13 September 1983, the Nicaraguan Council of State approved the Patriotic Military Service Law. Two days later, at the 162nd anniversary celebration of Nicaragua's independence from Spain and the 127th anniversary of the San Jacinto battle in which Nicaraguans defeated the U.S. invaders, nine youths were the first to register for the draft. The first was Carlos Fonseca Teran, son of the founder of the FSLN, Carlos Fonseca Amador. This action symbolized how the armed forces of the new Nicaragua continue the tradition begun by the "small crazy army" of General Sandino, the inspiration behind the Sandinista Front.

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Page last modified: 23-12-2016 19:22:32 ZULU